Canker Sores, Acne, and Your Omega 3/Omega 6 Balance

by Kate on June 26, 2012

in Acne, Health, Healthy Eating, Healthy Living, Natural Beauty, Skin Care

English: Roasted Peanuts author: FlyingdreamAt 25 my struggle with acne is hardly rare, but yet another inflammatory auto-immune type problem that I’ve struggled with is canker sores. Canker sores, if you aren’t familiar with them, are little open white sores that appear on the inside of your mouth (for me, usually on my lower gums) and they are excruciating. Truly, I’ve never had a pimple, a cut, or a bruise that was anywhere near as painful as a canker sore. Canker sores have this biting kind of pain that’s really unbearable. It makes talking, eating, and laughing (so basically living) pretty miserable. They tend to last 1-2 weeks.

For those of you wondering, canker sores are not related to cold sores (which are caused by a virus). Canker sores are commonly thought to be auto-immune reaction. Acne is, in many ways, also an auto-immune response.  Acne and canker sores are both symptoms of gluten intolerance (I wrote about my recent foray into gluten-free living yesterday) and so when I went gluten free I was anxious to see if I would also find my skin clearing up and my recurring canker sores subsiding.

Well…funnily enough I ended up having a pretty bad breakout and getting 2 new canker sores within about a week of going gluten free. At first I thought maybe it was a detox reaction (frequently detox symptoms are identical to the symptoms that the toxin itself was causing). But then I realized: NUTS. I hadn’t really eaten nuts in years because I always felt like they caused my canker sores. But I never knew why. When I went gluten free, I bought a bunch of almonds and sunflower seeds to make up for the cravings I was having for crunchy snacks. And then just a week later, horrible canker sores and acne? Can’t be coincidence, I thought.

So I did a bunch of research and I think it all comes down to my omega 3/omega 6 fatty acid balance. Omega 3 fatty acids are greatly anti-inflammatory whereas Omega 6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation (but they do good things too like promote brain health and growth and development so that’s we we still eat and crave them). It’s important to consume both, but omega 6 fatty acids are very pervasive in most modern American diets so most of us get too much. Most of the oils used to cook our food in restaurants, and most packaged foods contain high amounts of Omega 6. Unfortunately overabundance of Omega 6 fatty acids causes too much inflammation in the body AND decreases the ability of Omega 3’s to work their anti-inflammatory magic. Omega 3, however, is really only found in oily fish, spirulina, dark green leafy vegetables, and flaxseeds…stuff we just don’t tend to eat much of. Thus you can see how it would be easy to be runn

ing around with a very inflamed little body most of the time.  Canker sores and acne are both worsened by an over zealous inflammatory response, so if you want to lessen or prevent acne or canker sores you’ve got to get more omega 3 and less omega 6. Well, nuts and seeds are super high in Omega 6. Super high. So all those nuts I was eating in my first week of gluten free? Bad idea!

Now, luckily, around the time I started gluten-free, I also started taking Green Pasture’s Fermented Cod Liver Oil (Read my post about it here). If only I’d started taking it a couple weeks earlier, maybe I would have been protected against the inflammatory reaction. Cod Liver Oil is very high in Omega 3 fatty acids. But I think between taking the cod liver oil and avoiding eating more than a small handful of nuts every now and then, I can keep my balance in check going forward.  Chocolate is also unfortunately high in omega 6 so I try to limit that one as well. ***Avocados are quite high in omega 6, but don’t seem to cause me any problems and I eat them all the time. I’m still searching for reasons behind that. Maybe because they’re plant based and the body uses them differently? More on that later…***

I think the most interesting thing about my reaction to consuming nuts and having an omega 3/6 imbalance is that I tend to get multiple inflammatory responses all happening at the same time like a big storm–acne, canker sores, and this time around I even had a swollen lymph node appear under my jaw. Sometimes I feel like my body’s sensitivity is so unfair. Why should I have to super careful about eating when so many others go about their daily lives with no knowledge of what a canker sore is, and no understanding that acne isn’t caused by not washing your face enough? But then I also feel like maybe it’s a weird little gift. At least my body is giving me outward signs and clues that something’s wrong. Some people don’t get any feedback from their bodies and feel generally healthy until they hit 50 and BAM–cancer.  I hope my strange little struggles have some kind of significance, but I’ll be honest, sometimes I really feel like I pulled the short stick.

If anyone else has experience with canker sores, acne, and omega 3/6 balance, I’d love to hear about it. Or if you experience canker sores and have any other thoughts on what the root cause might be I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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*In the spirit of full disclosure, links to products in this post may be affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission if you decide to purchase any of the products I recommend. Know that I only recommend products that I have used and love myself.

*I am not a doctor, a nurse, or any kind of health practitioner. I’m just a gal with a pretty keen intuitive sense, great research abilities, and curiosity that is easily peaked. Please understand that my advice is really just another opinion and it’s for you (and your doctor) to decide the best course for your health and well-being.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy July 2, 2012 at 6:03 am

I’m not sure about canker sores and the 3/6 balance, but I also used to suffer from very painful canker sores. I thought it was my love of acidic foods that was causing the sores (esp. pineapple). However, they essentially disappeared once I switched to natural toothpaste (Jason or Tom’s is usually what i use). Those harsh chemicals were apparently making my mouth angry!


courtneyrutland September 11, 2012 at 7:24 pm

I struggle with the same thing, sister! Frequent canker sores and acne both! I’ve found that nuts as well can sometimes be a trigger for canker sores with me, but a lot of times it’s a hit or miss. Right now I’m trying to avoid bananas because a friend of mine mentioned that another friend of hers found that those were a trigger. Also, sometimes decreasing my dairy intake seems to help ulcers heal faster. Still a bit of trial and error but worth trying out!


lightcleansimple September 19, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Interesting! I’ve never heard the bananas thing! I’ll have to look into that! Would be a shame since I love me some bananas!

For me peanuts are the absolute worst. Other nuts are also bad. And if I have one and eat chocolate, citrus, or anything with tomatoes it makes it last longer.

The dairy thing makes sense since dairy tends to be pro-inflammatory. I’ll try and limit that next time too. Thanks for the tips!


Melanie November 20, 2012 at 4:21 am

Very interesting. For me my body cannot tolerate white bread, pasta, cheese, crisps, crisps, chocolate, cereal, milk etc. I break out in acne and my mouth in canker sores, ulcers etc. Yesterday i had 10 Ryvita Wholegrain Rye crisp bread (low in fat and calories) for my lunch, and within 15 mins i felt a canker come up. So i now have to eliminate this from my diet. My mother in law gave me her old deep fat fryer, now im cursing the thing. The past few weeks me and my husband had been making our own chips in it, and i broke out in the worse cystic acne ever. 4 Massive cysts under nose, one at the side of my nose, 3 on my chin. I didnt want to leave the house, i was so selfconscious. I picked them unfortunately which turned into scabs and then i really i couldnt leave the house until they were gone. I wanted to jump off a clift, i was crying, couldnt sleep and felt sick to the stomach of how bad my face had broke out. Stupid me still went on having the chips evey week resulting in more, it only clicked the other day that the deep fat frier with all that nasty vegetable oil in it which we were reusing over and over was causing it. So now i am cutting out chips, wheat and rye. I am okay if i have these foods in moderation (once or twice a month) but if i binge too much on them over a week i suffer. Sometimes i feel its a gift too cause it keeps my weight and cholesterel down, but sometimes feel cursed that i have to be so darn careful all the time. I feel your pain, but at least at the end of the day we will stay healthy which is good for the heart. Thanks for you article, knowing i am not the only one suffers helps me.


Kate January 30, 2013 at 11:08 am

Hey Melanie,

Yes, I so identify with that “Is this a blessing or a curse?” feeling! On the one hand, how lucky are we that we actually have some kind of outward sign that something we’re doing is hurting us internally? On the other hand…ignorance is bliss? Ugh. It is, like you said, nice to know I’m not alone. Thanks for commenting.

Have you ever considered getting your hormone levels tested? Obviously acne can be hormone related (especially cystic acne) but there’s some research out there to show that canker sores can too–I know anytime I ever go on or off the pill I tend to get a breakout of canker sores. Anyway, just a suggestion–I think I’ll get mine tested soon and will most likely blog about it when I do.


Becky March 6, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Hi Kate, I know it has been a while since you posted this but I wanted to let you know that this information is very helpful! I recently embarked on a completely gluten free diet, and then switched to low carb when I found out gluten-free junk food made me feel just as bad as gluten-y junk food does. To my surprise, I had more energy on a low carb diet, but noticed about two weeks into it that I was developing canker sores and these small breakouts right along my lips – upper and lower. I came to Google of course to find out the potential cause of the problem and was surprised to stumble upon your website and see the correlation between increased omega-6 fats and canker sores/acne.

I realized after reading that one thing I’ve also increased as a result of bread and other snacks being limited is peanuts and nuts. I have been snacking on peanut butter in-between meals, making sugar free versions of peanut butter cookies, and eating more seeds and nuts in general. Of course before I went gluten free and low carb, nuts and peanuts never really were my favorite foods – now I see why! I was only eating them to supplement what I was lacking in carb-laden foods, only to find my body disagrees with them, which was probably the reason I never gave them much thought before.

My diet is now gluten, dairy, soy, and nut free – a very challenging way to live in our society – so instead of low-carb-ing it to lose weight, I am thinking of switching to a more Paleolithic/Anti-inflammatory diet to see if that heals my acne and stops these canker sores from popping up.



Kate March 9, 2013 at 12:18 am

Hey Becky,

Ugh. I so sympathize with you. It’s so hard to deal with inflammatory issues like acne and canker sores. Nuts (especially peanuts) are definitely the worst for my canker sores. At this point, I’d say so long as I avoid nuts and I’m not going through a time of super high stress, I can pretty much keep canker sores at bay.

That said, be aware that as you start changing your diet you could go through a detox and experience canker sores and acne as a part of “die-off”. Google “detox and die-off” to read up on it a bit. It’s good to prepare yourself–a lot of people embark on dietary changes but never make it through the first month because they have die-off symptoms and they think the new diet’s making them worse (not the case, your body is just in a healing crisis).

Just a thought! Hope that helps! Let me know how everything goes and what helps/what doesn’t.


juju May 21, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Hey Kate;

I am Gluten free.

A week ago, I bought some gluten free almond snack at the airport and ate quite a lot each day. Result: (maybe its linked, now that I’ve read your post) = 4 big cysts although I never used to have any. And just had peanuts for happy hour= immediate mouth ulcer.

I am not 100 percent related, but , as prevention, no more nuts for me!


Kate June 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Yeah–such a bummer because I love the taste/convenience of nuts, but they’ve always caused me problems. Weirdly, since I’ve been pregnant I seem to have lost the nut sensitivity–I can truly eat spoonfuls of peanut butter and not have a problem. So I’m looking into why that might be to see if there’s some way to duplicate that once I’m not pregnant anymore.


Katie May 29, 2013 at 9:52 pm

I just google searched “sores in mouth and acne” because my acne has been out of control lately and I noticed that I’ve been getting sores in my mouth. I’m gluten intolerant, and I think I need more omega-3s from reading your post. I’m going to do some more research and see, but I think the fatty acids are the missing link.


Karen June 1, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Also, look into the possibility that yeast is a contributor. If I consume yeast I’m any form, I get an outbreak of styes and canker sores. I’m trying to follow the anti candida diet. So far, so good:)


Kate June 26, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Yes definitely–I followed an anti-candida diet for the month or two before I got pregnant and saw a dramatic change! Wasn’t sure if it was a candida thing or a low sugar (no blood sugar spikes) thing, but it definitely helped me.


Ana June 6, 2013 at 1:32 am

Oh wow, I’m so intrigued by this information. I have had a huge acne and mouth ulcer flare up over the past 4 weeks or so and was beginning to wonder if they were related. I started taking a zinc supplement a couple of months ago to try and help with the acne but then it made me really sick because I built up a toxicity from overuse. So I started looking into foods that contain zinc and selenium (two supposedly good vitamins for fighting acne) and various different nuts contain these vitamins. So the last couple of weeks in particular I have been solely grazing on nuts every time I crave something sugary and my ulcers have been getting bigger and sorer and I have had a spread of angry red boils on my neck. Sounds like there could really be a link with the nuts now I piece it all together.


John February 26, 2014 at 8:05 am

Hi, Kate!

I really, really like your writing style. It’s light, simple and with good sense of humor. I especially enjoy this line, about ‘BAM-cancer’:

“Some people don’t get any feedback from their bodies and feel generally healthy until they hit 50 and BAM–cancer.”

This way of expression amused me for a whole day.

I’m also very grateful for your article. I suddenly started breaking out again, on my yaw (male hormonal acne?) although I did pretty well for some time – no major acne problems. Had my lifestyle and diet in check. I do workout and use Intermittent Fasting, eat veggies, some fruits and good source of protein. No grains, mostly Paleo style.
But then I kind of discovered a cheap source of protein – Peanuts. So I started indulging, mostly because they are cheap and I don’t care about calories. I was eating multiple handfuls a day, for maybe a week. After a while I started to noticeably break out. I could not understand why. I did everything right, even quit drinking beer (alcohol altogether).

Few days ago I found your article, as my intuition asked to Google: “acne omega 6 disbalance”. I wasn’t sure I will find any correlation, but I’m keen on discovering and learning. Then I opened your article and BAM-peanuts! 😀 I instantly knew, without even reading, that this is it!

The rest is history. Peanuts out of window (not literally; I give them to my brother).

I’ve stopped eating them completely for about 3 days now. Guess what? Break out has stopped and skin is reversing to it’s previous healthier state.

So, thank you, Kate! You are a true savior.


Kate May 15, 2014 at 9:32 am

Glad it’s working for you! Amazing what a simple change can do sometimes. Peanuts are DEFINITELY the absolute worst thing for me for both acne and canker sores.


Sandee Lester March 2, 2014 at 5:53 pm

I just found this site – better late than never? I want to share my canker sore experience – maybe there is someone else who will read this and be helped. PMS. Yes, our hormones also affect these nasty little mouth horrors. I would get them every month during PMS. I’m just about in Menopause and hoping they finally go away. Going through some detox right now though, and they seemed to have kicked up into full gear.


jennifer April 17, 2014 at 8:33 am

Thank you so much for this! I have had horrible acne and now canker sores, so I looked it up. I HAVE been consuming tons of nuts lately! I also eat avocado and way too much chocolate. Usually I have greens as well, but we went out of town and I wasn’t getting much in the way of green.
Thank you again for this insight.


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